The NASCAR Truck Series now has its very own “I don’t believe what I just saw” moment. That line was uttered by legendary baseball announcer Jack Buck during the 1988 World Series, and he might have repeated it Saturday afternoon if he was calling the United Rentals 200.
When the day began, eight drivers still had championship dreams dancing in their heads. Five were mathematically alive, while the others needed to win if they wanted to advance. Zane Smith was most in need, 40 points back. A record number of cautions for a NASCAR Truck Series playoff event set the stage for one of the most bizarre endings seen in quite some time, with Smith going from zero to hero thanks to overtime.
Todd Gilliland had arguably the best truck, winning both stages, and would dart away on every restart down the stretch. But the last one was a bit different. Caught in the middle of a three-truck sandwich between Smith on the inside and Stewart Friesen on the outside, Gilliland nudged ahead only to be hooked by Friesen, sending him into the wall.
Overtime rules say that once the white flag waves, the next one ends the race. Smith was declared the winner, and it was just a formality that he completed the final lap, taking the checkers under yellow.
NASCAR Truck Series at Martinsville winners and losers
But that wasn’t the end of the story. With Zane Smith leapfrogging into the top spot of the championship-bound foursome, it meant someone would miss out, and that would be reigning champion Sheldon Creed.
Another driver seemingly locked in was John Hunter Nemechek. With a series-leading five wins, all he had to do was finish the race, and he didn’t, crashing out when he got hooked by Austin Wayne Self on Lap 131. He ended up P39 but still had enough points banked to move through. Commenting on the events that transpired before him, Nemechek said during the post-race interview:
“He shouldn’t be out here if he’s just going to hook someone in the right rear and turn them in the fence. NASCAR should definitely look at that. It’s Playoff contention. You’ve got to have respect, and he doesn’t. It is what it is.”
Nemechek went on to say his motto for the day was "survival and advance." He didn’t, but he advanced.
Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes will be the other two finalists for the NASCAR Truck Series title.
NASCAR Truck Series United Rentals 200 prerace notes
• On Friday, Team Chevy announced that it would debut a redesigned Silverado for the 2022 NASCAR Truck Series season.
• Race length is 105.2-miles (200 laps). There is no competition caution, and stages end at Laps 50, 100, and 200. Each team has five sets of tires.
• Parker Kligerman (No. 75 Tundra) was sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments. He was scheduled to start P30.
• Defending NASCAR Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed is starting P4. He began the day in the final transfer spot, five points ahead of Stewart Friesen.
• The two drivers at the top of the playoff standings, John Hunter Nemechek and Ben Rhodes, could potentially clinch a championship berth after the second stage, but not before.